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Feb 1, 2012

Rinehart won’t find a Fairfax

Gina Rinehart is likely to find investing in Fairfax Media a deeply frustrating experience, whether she’s trying to influence the newspapers or just make money.

Gina Rinehart is likely to find investing in Fairfax Media a deeply frustrating experience, whether she’s trying to influence the newspapers or just make money.

Like her father, Lang Hancock, Rinehart is not a portfolio investor looking to invest her iron ore money in a diversified portfolio of businesses and assets to spread risk.

She was raised on mining and right-wing politics and was taught by her father that owning media was a source of influence, along with giving politicians money directly and nagging them, and everyone, endlessly about the benefits of small government and the evils of environmentalism. Gina Rinehart is not a nag like her father and she hangs onto her money like a limpet, although she is starting to dabble in media companies.

But she will need to buy more than 15% of Fairfax to have any say — even if she does manage to get on the board.

It’s possible that Fairfax board meetings will become slightly less civilised affairs if Australia’s richest person is present as part-owner of the company, but 15% doesn’t buy you the ability to change strategy or management.

It’s true that 10% of the Ten Network got her on the board, and the sudden appearance of a Sunday morning TV show by her favourite columnist, Andrew Bolt, is often cited as evidence of her influence, but there is no way that would have happened against the better judgment of Ten’s programmers. No doubt they were ready to try anything to combat the dominance of your correspondent in the 10am time slot on Sunday.

I used to work for Lang Hancock in the seventies on the one newspaper the family actually owned — the National Miner — when he was at the peak of his political powers, such as they were, and Gina was a young heiress learning the business and starting a family of her own.

In those days Lang made a lot of noise and gave a lot of cash to favoured politicians such as Joh Bjelke-Petersen and John Martyr, but he mostly wasted his breath and his money. I suppose he was one of the cacophony of voices that led to the rise of right-wing (small government) politics around the world in the 1980s, but Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were perhaps somewhat more influential.

These days big government is ascendant and capitalism is in crisis, thanks to an excess of debt plus the fragmenting, democratising, pirating effect of the internet.

In fact, the way central banks in Europe and the United States are controlling the financial system these days with their emergency liquidity programs, we virtually have a centrally planned economy in the west. Meanwhile the world’s most successful economy is a communist dictatorship.

It’s a little hard to tell since she hasn’t yet given us the benefit of her views in either a book or a long interview, but Gina Rinehart appears to be an unreconstructed Thatcherite/Reaganite as well as a full-blown climate sceptic.

But to force Andrew Bolt into The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, I’d say she would need to buy 51% of the company, and even then she’d struggle.

As for buying 235 million Fairfax shares at 81.8 cents as an investment — it’s a roulette play, in my view.

Either chief executive Greg Hywood pulls it off and Fairfax makes a profitable transition to being a digital company, or he doesn’t and the company goes back into receivership and shareholders lose everything. There isn’t any middle ground, in my view.

And even if he does pull it off, the stock is unlikely to be a short-term ten-bagger: there are far better speculative plays in the industry Gina Rinehart knows best.

The digital transition for all traditional media companies is more about survival than riches. It’s about figuring out how to move from high margins to low margins, not the other way around.

*This article was originally published at Business Spectator

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10 thoughts on “Rinehart won’t find a Fairfax

  1. Suzanne Blake

    Interesting. She would not be buying it for an investment, what is the upside?

  2. madelinelizabeth

    Gina Rinehart as a limpet! Slippery, hard and at the end of the day, a mollusc. Couldn’t have put it better myself!

  3. Rob Dawson

    I dare say the results announcement for December that is due shortly will be revealing. Corbett has his usual suspects from Bain writing the script and Hywood will have to convince the market that cost cutting is credible.
    Rinehart seems to be having fun twisting tails and presumably punting on a few quid from the inevitable break up (in which she might get to pick a few bits for herself).
    If the Corbett/Hywood strategy story sinks, Rinehart and others will feast.
    The flaw in Alan’s thinking is in the belief that the metropolitan parts (and supposed “traditions”) are in any way important to the financial equation. Corbett clearly has made no impact there, other than to presumably scoop out the costs that will be in his next “strategy”.
    Of course Alan might just be hoping that Hywood lasts long enough to save him from his own financial predicament?

  4. paddy

    It’s a deeply depressing thought, that if Gina Hancock decides to take control of Fairfax. (And she’s clearly got the money to do it without putting a major dent in her bank balance.)
    Then Australia’s print media will be fully controlled by Murdoch and Hancock.
    Combined with a hung parliament and an unpopular Govt, who will be fairly powerless to resist….Thing’s are looking pretty grim for free press and a healthy democracy.

  5. linda domaschenz

    Well the only upside is crikey can expect some more subscribers due to her push into Fairfax. She isn’t by any means finished with this addition to her portfolio, scary stuff. Not many of the usual pundits posting there today. The silence is deafening, a protest- I guess we are all a bit shocked at what the future may hold. Her politics are not to be welcomed into editorial comment and direction, into the metro dailies let alone rural press publications. It’s right wing enough out here already.

  6. klewso

    Reckon she’ll try to buy Crikey – to garner more influence over “public opinion” – to shut it up and stifle the expression of views alternate to the one’s she likes?
    Imagine “public perception, caught between Murdoch and this hard case”?
    Who knows she could make her “Rhinestone Cowboy”, Cousin Jethro, editor – as soon as he graduates Ox Ford and they build the bridge, so he can get to work?

  7. Think Big

    Faifax already is a right-wing megaphone.

    Anyone paying attention has noticed that Paul Sheehan now gets an opinion piece 2 to 3 times per week to regale us with his unique blend of idiocy and Gerard Henderson or Peter Costello are always there when Sheehan isn’t.

    Anyone who tries to add a progressive sounding comment gets short-shrift if criticism isn’t couched in careful language whilst the Menzies-House spam brigade seem to get almost a free run.

  8. Masters Jill

    don’t forget amanda *scoff* vanstone.
    anyway, the sooner australia turns into a quarry the better. people have it to good now to know if anything needs to change, so let them eat cake.

  9. linda domaschenz

    Hey! good to see you Think Big, another refugee. I’ve decided to use real name here than all the other monikers on Fairfax I use. For today at least, see what happens. Been a subscriber here for awhile but thought todays the day I’m commencing to comment with crikey. Yes, and with you on Paul Sheehan & ilk. One has to be careful how to get a post at times there depending on subject matter. And yep the usual R wingers almost have an honour roll. Not to mention letters to Ed.Was so obviously a very political protest today. Noticed at one point 15,000 (that’s what it said, unprecedented) or so online and barely a comment. I call for a national day of mourning, the end of those monopolies as we have know it. Some more energetic/innovative/ soul should make thousands of appropriate armbands aka like the footy heads wear all too often.
    So crikey, the refugees are on your “boat”, get ready for an invasion. You may be swamped by Oz political refugee/asylum seekers not wanting to relinquish our right to free speech.

  10. Col in Sydney

    The point is, of course, that the people who run the Fairfax press now are so incompetent that anyone wandering in off the street could probably do a better job. I can’t say that I would ever read anything written by Andrew Bolt, but if someone could get in there and just sack every paid opinion writer they have and just publish the best letters they receive more prominently, they could actually make a huge difference.

    The big problem with Fairfax in particular and the news media in general, is that journalists, living in a very strange and small world, manage to convince themselves that their opinions are in some way better than those of other people – when exactly the opposite is true. What the news media needs to restore itself to relevance is diversity of opinion – not the same boring, paid, protected hacks that are all we are offered day after day, week after week. So, get in there Gina, you couldn’t do any worse.

    [Moderator: this comment has been edited. Please avoid swearing where possible…]